Three years after its rebirth, the Tour dâ€™AlgĂ©rie has set a record. With twelve days of racing, it is now the longest race on the UCI Africa Tour. In fact, the event is made up of four competitions, each with their own entries on the calendar: the Tour dâ€™AlgĂ©rie itself (five days), the Circuit de la Ville dâ€™Alger (one day), the Tour de Tipaza (three days) and the Tour de Blida (three days).
Participating teams can choose which of the races in the series they enter, since each event has its own classification. Nevertheless, all of the tours are bound together by the memory of the Grand Tour dâ€™AlgĂ©rie, which in its day drew such great riders as Gerrie Knetemann, the 1972 winner.
Competition from foreign riders was fierce this year; Constantino Zaballa, former winner of the ClĂˇsica San SebastiĂˇn, won the Tour de Tipaza, which helped to raise the game of the Algerian and African teams in the race.
Boost for Algerian cycling
â€śSome people thought that the high level would work against the Algerian riders, but in the end the opposite happened. They psyched themselves up, they stuck to the wheels in front and they learned from the experienced foreign riders that we invited,â€ť said Rachid Fezouine, President of the Algerian Cycling Federation (FAC), in defence of his ambitious decision.
The results his athletes achieved appear to prove him right. Abdelbasset Hannachi (Groupement Sportif PĂ©trolier AlgĂ©rie) won one stage of the Tour dâ€™AlgĂ©rie and another in the Tour de Tipaza, and his teammate Azzedine Lagab came second in the Circuit dâ€™Alger behind Martin Pedersen, formerÂ Team CSC and Leopard-TrekÂ professional.
The best performance was delivered by a former World Cycling Centre trainee, 24-year-old Hichem Chaabane (VĂ©lo Club Sovac), who rode to victory in the Tour de Blida after winning the final stage on Mount Chrea. With 93.67 points he now stands in 7th place in the UCI Africa Tour, which is still led by Yohann GĂ¨ne of Team Europcar (130 points).
VĂ©lo Club Sovac is 4th in the team ranking, just ahead of Groupement Sportif PĂ©trolier AlgĂ©rie; Team MTN-Qhubeka remains in the lead for the time being.
After its home events, Algeria retains third place in the UCI Africa Tour national rankings with 359.68 points, trailing Morocco (484 points) and Eritrea, which leads with 600.34 points.
Inspiring a country
Another great achievement of the new-look Grand Tour dâ€™AlgĂ©rie was that it mobilised the entire country. As the FAC President noted, â€śThe media gave comprehensive coverage to the event, even though the African under-20 football championships were taking place at the same time. All of a sudden, cycling was at least as important as football!â€ť
The public authorities were also fully on board. Since the 2013 event featured double the number of race days compared with the previous year, the Ministry for Youth and Sports also doubled its financial support. Moreover, the Minister of Tourism personally came to present prizes on the final day.
In figures, this seasonâ€™s UCI events in Algeria can be summarised as follows: 624 volunteers and professionals in the caravan, 60 cars, including new vehicles for each team, ten buses, an articulated lorry and, for the spectatorsâ€™ pleasure, 2000 metres of sponsored fencing and a 32-square-metre giant screen.
Reviving interest in cycling
The Grand Tour dâ€™AlgĂ©rie has carved itself a special place in the calendar. â€śThe Tour of Algeria is the tour of all Africa,â€ť said Alassane D. Ouangraoua, President of the Burkina Faso Federation, who was invited to the event. Nevertheless, the organisers of the Grand Tour dâ€™AlgĂ©rie have no intention of sitting on their laurels. They hope eventually to have more total days than any of the grand tours (Giro, Tour, Vuelta), while continuing to offer Ă la carte participation in each event, which would remain independently registered on the UCI Africa Tour calendar.
â€śBy passing through 320 communities this year, with more to come in the future, we are creating and recreating an appetite for cycling in Algeria,â€ť explained the federation president. His bid to relaunch the event at a high level has succeeded, and his enthusiasm is infectious. If security and logistics are improved from 2014, as per the UCIâ€™s recommendations, the Grand Tour dâ€™AlgĂ©rie could become a reference, not just for the UCI Africa Tour, but for cycling worldwide.